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Design thinking

Design thinking is a human-centred (customer, user) method for innovation. Its objective is to identify and solve problems in a creative way. It is an iterative approach used by companies when creating new services or products. The interest for companies in using design thinking is to solve problems collectively and reveal previously unexplored opportunities.

Design thinking: origins and definition

Born in the United States, the method of design thinking (or “thought design”, “design approach”) began to be used in the 1980s, under the leadership of Rolf Faste, at Stanford University. It was popularised by David Kelley in Palo Alto and his agency IDEO. Design thinking has been booming since the 2010s with the digital transformation of businesses. Since then, universities and top Business Schools have also increased the number of training programmes dedicated to design thinking.

Design thinking methodology

Often opposed to analytical thinking (because its approach is not linear, but iterative), design thinking uses the approach of designers to stimulate innovation within companies. Some call it “human-centred design”.

Design thinking focuses on solving the problems encountered by users by providing them with innovative solutions. To do this, it relies on multidisciplinary teams and on a methodology of co-creation with users. Its area of application is immense. Design thinking can be used in any industry, as long as users identify a problem.

Design thinking, a global approach at the service of innovation

How strong is this approach? Design thinking is based on several key strengths:

  • empathy: a fine and detailed knowledge of users’ needs helps to understand their behaviors (work on empathy makes it possible to fully understand users’ journeys, their expectations and their emotions);
  • the establishment of a working environment that promotes experimentation, creativity and innovation, bringing together teams who are not necessarily used to working together and who learn, thanks to design thinking, to express their ideas before sorting them and choosing a direction (this is “co-creation”);
  • iteration: the design thinking process is iterative, which means that the different solutions are tested, then improved or abandoned, in order to find the most relevant solutions;
  • action: design thinking is not just a thought, its objective is to act.

What are the main stages of the design thinking approach?

Different approaches to design thinking coexist. Some authors divide its methodology into three, five or seven stages, and this method is also constantly evolving. We can distinguish three major essential steps.

Identifying the problem

Studying users and their expectations makes it possible to focus on a particular problem. The users are then called upon during the various test phases.


The proposed ideas must be studied from the point of view of their technical feasibility and the expectations of the users (desirability). This is the stage where prototypes and user tests are carried out.


This step ensures that the solutions are viable from an economic point of view.

What are the benefits of design thinking in business?

The reasons that push a company to adopt a design thinking approach take many forms:

  • remove organisational blockers which slow the business down, and which are responsible for the failure of many innovations;
  • foster a collaborative mindset;
  • bring out talents;
  • provide better customer service.

Design thinking makes it possible to involve people from different backgrounds and different universes, each bringing their own understanding of a problem or a need. This communal reflection makes it possible to develop innovative solutions, products and services, truly in line with the needs expressed by the user. Internally, design thinking therefore makes it possible to change mentalities, approaches and working methods. Its approach is permanently focused on the user. Externally, design thinking helps to maintain closer and more solid links with customers, end users of new products or services.

What are the prerequisites and conditions for successful design thinking in business?

Draw on multidisciplinary skills

The whole company must buy-in to this process to make it succeed. It’s the collaboration of different knowledge-sets and skills that will enable the same problem to be analysed from many different angles. Co-creation workshops help teams work in a multidisciplinary manner.

Develop empathy

Design thinking places people at the centre of its approach. Knowing how to put yourself in the user’s shoes, listen to their problems and provide effective solutions are essential factors for the success of a design thinking process.

Use the right tools

Design thinking is a creative approach. There is therefore plenty of room for drawings, sketches, flipcharts, interview guides, user journeys in visual form… The main thing is to stimulate the creativity of the participants throughout the work process.